By ZENDA DOUGLASS, Chatham News + Record Correspondent
Starting a new school week can be a challenge for any student, but on a recent Monday, a 16-year-old student from Northwood High School took on the biggest challenge of her life.
And at the end of the day, Airryn Wharton had plenty to be grateful for — a large class, a special teacher, and most importantly, her father’s life.
When Airryn went out to warm up her car that freezing February 7 morning, she noticed that her father had returned after driving her younger sister to school. But when she came back outside to go to school herself, her car was still there – in the same place.
That was unusual, Airryn thought.
Normally, his father would have already left for work. When Airryn investigated, she found him inside the car with his head against the window – unconscious.
Airryn immediately ran to get her mother and brother, who were inside, then called 911. The car doors were locked, but the window was down and the family managed to open the door, pulling Reginald Aaron Wharton Jr. from his vehicle and lay down. him flat on the driveway.
The sound his father made sounded like a snore to Airryn. But she knew—thanks to a course she’d taken at Northwood—that wasn’t the case.
Airryn performed CPR on her father and continued chest compressions for about six minutes until help arrived. This sustained him until the arrival of a police officer and emergency medical technicians; an ambulance then took his father to UNC Hospitals, where he remained until late afternoon before being released.
The fear was about a previously undiagnosed health condition.
“At the time, I certainly didn’t think about the magnitude of the problem,” Airryn said. “I am very happy now that CPR is something I can do to save his life. I just want to make sure people know that CPR and safety training is so important and can save a life.
On the way to the hospital, Airryn texted Sherri Stubbs, one of her teachers at Northwood – the same teacher who taught Airryn the value and skills of CPR in her second year.
“I know Airryn from my health sciences class and as a cheerleader,” said Stubbs, who is also the school’s cheerleading coach. “Airryn is a very balanced, calm and calm person. Paramedics told Airryn’s mother that had it not been for her daughter’s efforts, the outcome could have been very different. I call him the humble hero.
Stubbs hosted a formal moment of recognition for Airryn as a “humble hero” at a Northwood basketball game the following night.
Stubbs teaches Health Sciences I, a course in Northwood’s Health Sciences pathways as part of its Professional and Technical Education program. In Health Sciences I, students learn about the bodily systems, including the skeletal, muscular, lymphatic, and other systems; the circulatory and respiratory systems are covered in Health Sciences II. First aid and safety, as well as basic CPR (or Heart-Saver), are covered in Health Science I.
Students can be certified in first aid after studying CPR, use of EpiPens, snake/spider bites, insect bites, drowning, anaphylactic shock, tourniquets, and other arresting techniques bleeding. Stubbs also teaches biotechnology which focuses more on technology, research, and forensics.
Students studying Health Sciences I and II and Basic Nursing can earn CNA certification. These courses offer students the opportunity to see if there is serious interest in a healthcare or biomedical field. Northwood teachers enhance learning by bringing in guest speakers among healthcare professionals.
After working in radiology for 23 years, Stubbs became a health physicist for the state of North Carolina.
“I decided then that I wanted to teach and bring a real-life perspective to the classroom,” Stubbs said.
One of the bulletin boards in his class is decorated with the following inscription: “The chapter you learn today is the chapter that will save someone’s life tomorrow, so be careful.”
“It’s really good to see students taking lessons in the classroom and using them in everyday life,” said Northwood athletic director Vernon Cameron. Some of his sports medicine courses also correlate with health science courses.
“He’s an example of teachers having a really big impact,” Cameron said, referring to Airryn’s lifesaving actions.
CPR instruction is fairly readily available in Chatham County and surrounding communities. The American Heart Association offers classes, as does the American Red Cross. Several other organizations and private companies offer CPR and related courses in the area, and those interested can also choose to take their CPR courses online. Central Carolina Community College offers many healthcare courses, all of which include CPR training. Laypersons will learn a hands-on “Heart-Saver” method while those pursuing career options as healthcare providers will learn basic life-sustaining methods. More than just compressions, BLS CPR involves breathing into a patient’s mouth or using a rescue respirator and/or using different techniques for infants and children.
“You’re trying to massage the core and get it back into its proper rhythm either way,” Stubbs said. “Every patient is different. With cardiac arrest or heart attack, there are many different scenarios and survival rates with CPR vary widely.
“Emergency dispatchers can guide 911 callers through instructions so they can start CPR until EMS arrives with a defibrillator,” said Susan Macklin, who designs EMS-related courses in as director of the EMS program at CCCC. “If CPR and an external defibrillator (automated or manual) are used within six minutes of a cardiac event, there is an 80% increase in the likelihood of survival.
“I’d rather everyone learn CPR because it would save so many lives,” Macklin added, saying she hoped to onboard a bilingual instructor to better accommodate the Spanish-speaking population.
“By training students in hands-only CPR, we are equipping the next generation of lifeguards,” says Anne Miller, executive director of the American Heart Association (Triangle & Eastern NC). “CPR, if performed immediately, can double or triple a person’s chances of survival. It’s heartening to learn that Airryn was ready to act quickly in the event of a cardiac emergency, saving her father’s life.
No one is more grateful and proud of Airryn Wharton than her father.
“I’m so grateful that she’s home and getting ready to go to school and that she saw me,” Wharton said. “She is my angel. I am very proud of her. It is a reminder that we have an obligation to take care of ourselves for our children.
Wharton said he didn’t know what Airryn did for him until his wife told him at the hospital.
“I couldn’t remember anything after I got home from driving my youngest daughter,” he said.
Airryn says she’s grateful for her dad and his family — and grateful that she didn’t have a first-period class and for the class where she learned CPR.
“When it’s someone you know and CPR has been applied, it shows how important it is,” Stubbs says.
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